Forget the rules and tell a story

March 25, 2008

Writing has taken on new meaning as I've gotten a little older and a little wiser.

Grammar and spelling, in particular, are not the twin unbreakable pillars they once appeared to be when I was in high school or earlier. Reading Tolkien, and considering his status within the literary world, is evidence of that; though his grammar completely defies the Laws of English Class in several ways (particularly in the Silmarillion), he is held up to be one of the greatest writers of fiction.

Originally, I believed there was only one way to write - the Correct Way, in which the form of the language matched the textbooks perfectly. Now, though, I have come to believe that not only are there multiple ways to write, but different forms of writing must be used in different contexts. The Correct Way is appropriate only in certain situations.

One of those situations is in business letters, resumés, and other formal career-related communication. The purpose of the language used is to impart a sense of your competence and professionalism. For us twenty-somethings, this is the area that is most often lacking. In college, a scant two years ago, I proofread some classmates' papers in upper division courses and was appalled by the errors in what should have been fundamental form. Run ons, fragments, and similar literary atrocities abounded. This is no way to demonstrate our competence in the workplace, particularly for those of us who work as freelancers outside the relatively safe cubicle world. Our communication style is vital.

Now, while that professional Correct Way is appropriate and even necessary in the corporate world, it is often inappropriate for the world of fiction and narrative writing. As per Tolkien's example, there is a different kind of focus for narrative form - the telling of the story. Flowery language makes it more difficult to read, certainly, but using unusual words and sentence structures forces our brains to creatively interpret. Once we engage that half of our brain, suddenly these worlds that the authors are weaving for us take on a life of their own.

This kind of writing is also necessary for our development as individuals, though many people don't allow it to flourish…or even practice it. Flowery writing makes us think and produces new pathways in our still-growing brain patterns, something ever so vital for a twenty-something newly recovering from the culture of university.

Storytelling is an important skill, and being able to forget the Correct Way for awhile and forge new trails helps us become more rounded people.

So, the next time you find yourself free for fifteen minutes with nothing in mind to do, grab a sheet of paper or a word processor and tell a story. Forget the grammar…show us your world.